UN Assembly Condemns US Embargo On Cuba

 

The UN General Assembly condemned the nearly 60-year-old US embargo on Cuba Thursday for the 28th year in a row, calling for an end to it by a vote of 187 to three.

Only Israel and Brazil voted with the US against the resolution. Two other US allies — Ukraine and Colombia — abstained.

First imposed on October 19, 1960, in response to Havana’s nationalization of US-owned oil refineries, and extended in 1962, the embargo is an enduring legacy of the Cold War hostilities between the two countries.

It was denounced as “anachronistic” and “inhumane” during two days of debate by the General Assembly.

In 2016, the US abstained for the first time in the annual UN vote amid a historic US rapprochement with Cuba under former President Barack Obama.

But diplomatic relations between the two countries have turned cold since Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez charged there has been “an escalation in aggression against Cuba” under Trump, whose government, he said, “does not hide its intention to economically asphyxiate Cuba and increase the damage, shortages, and suffering of its people.”

Havana claims the embargo has caused $138 billion in damage to the island’s economy, in today’s dollars.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, blamed the Cuban regime, accusing it of abuses against its own people, and of sowing regional instability.

Brazil, now led by the ultra-conservative Jair Bolsonaro, voted for the first time with the United States. Last year, only Israel joined the US in voting against the resolution.

With Queues And Blackouts, Cubans Suffer Fuel Crisis

Car drivers line up to get their tanks filled at a gas station in Havana, on September 19, 2019. Cuban President Miguel Diaz Canel blamed the United States for Cuba’s fuel shortage. In his address, he said the “low availability of diesel” will affect transport, distribution and electricity generation. The US Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on various companies for transporting Venezuelan petroleum to Cuba. PHOTO: YAMIL LAGE / AFP

 

Ernesto Mirabal gave up a night’s sleep for a few gallons of gas at a Havana service station, where lining up for five hours has become the norm during a severe fuel shortage on the Communist-run island.

Since President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s shock announcement on September 11 that the country was facing the fuel shortfall, widespread uncertainty and a degree of panic have gripped the nation.

Mirabal, a taxi driver, had no choice but to while away his sleeping hours queuing for gas.

“I got here a little after 11 o’clock and was able to put gas in the car at four in the morning,” said Mirabal, 48. “I had to do it because I had a customer to pick up at 7 o’clock.”

“I’ve got enough fuel for today and tomorrow now. But the day after tomorrow I have to start all over again.”

– Drastic measures –

Images of long lines of people waiting endless hours outside service stations have flooded Cubans’ Twitter and Facebook timelines over the past week.

WhatsApp groups have sprung up around the burning question of the day: “Where can I get fuel?”

In public companies and offices, schedules have been cut back, air conditioners have hummed to a halt and electricity blackouts imposed for a few hours a day. Some companies have sent their workers home.

Garbage accumulates in the streets as collections are cut back, a blow to the health ministry’s battle against resurgent dengue fever, a deadly strain of which is worrying authorities.

The drastic measures in place for the past week remind many of the Special Period, the dark days of extreme shortages in the 1990s which followed the collapse of Cuba’s main sponsor, the Soviet Union.

Some measures indeed mirror those of 25 years ago as the nation tries to cope.

With public transport reduced to bare minimum service, traffic police flag down drivers of state-owned vehicles to demand they take on passengers.

But the starkest example of Cuba’s fuel crisis can be seen in the sugar cane plantations, where oxen are being brought in to replace the machines that power the country’s biggest export.

– Panic –

“People think the fuel will run out and so everyone is trying to accumulate as much as possible,” said Omar Everleny, an economist.

“They believe things will get even more complicated, despite what the authorities say.”

Diaz-Canel promised a return to “relative normality” by October.

Despite an official prohibition, many motorists fill up jerrycans at service stations, in addition to their cars.

The government is keeping up a barrage of reassuring messages, with the president calling on citizens to “think like a country” and stand together at this time of need.

Diaz-Canel has blamed the shortages on increasingly aggressive US sanctions against Cuba and its oil-source ally Venezuela.

“Imperialism is not going to ruin our lives or take our sleep away,” the president tweeted on Thursday as the crisis entered its second week.

“We are facing up to this situation, we are implementing systematic economy measures, we are growing and we will win.”

Like many others, however, Everleny, the economist, doesn’t buy the government line.

“If the country is paralyzed, where will the growth come from?” He asked, citing a decline in tourist arrivals from Europe. Cruise ships that brought thousands of American visitors every week have been banned since June, as part of the US sanctions.

The fuel shortage is indicative of the country’s currency crisis.

Cuba has no alternative to oil from Venezuela which is paid for in part by sending Cuban doctors to Caracas to shore up a collapsing medical system.

And as for the return to normal promised by Diaz-Canel, Everleny warns: “Normal would mean a return to a period of weak growth and uncertainty.”

AFP

US Sanctions Venezuela Oil Vessels, Cuba Shippers

US President Donald Trump, with Vice President Mike Pence, speaks about the economy on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC. NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP

 

US Vice President Mike Pence announced sanctions Friday on 34 vessels of Venezuela’s state oil company and two companies that ship crude to Cuba as Washington pushes to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

“Venezuela’s oil belongs to the Venezuelan people,” Pence said in a speech at Rice University in Houston.

“Those looking on should know this: All options are on the table. And Nicolas Maduro would do well not to test the resolve of the United States of America,” he said.

“The United States will continue to exert all diplomatic and economic pressure to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy,” he said.

READ ALSO: American David Malpass Named World Bank President

The action is the latest by the United States as it tries to squeeze revenue from the cash-strapped leftist government, which has nonetheless held onto power and enjoys backing from China and Russia.

The Treasury Department said it was designating 34 vessels of state oil company PDVSA as blocked property, meaning that the United States will block all transactions with them.

It also targeted a tanker that ships crude oil from Venezuela to its key ally Cuba, the Despina Andrianna, as well as two shipping companies linked to the vessel — one based in Greece and the other in Liberia.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement accused Cuba — a bugbear of the United States for decades — of propping up Maduro.

“The United States remains committed to a transition to democracy in Venezuela and to holding the Cuban regime accountable for its direct involvement in Venezuela’s demise,” Mnuchin said in a statement.

The United States itself was a key market for Venezuelan oil through Citgo, a subsidiary of PDVSA, but Washington has forced the operator to place earnings in a blocked account.

AFP

Three Dead, 172 Injured In Havana Tornado

Cuban police cordon off a street in the tornado-hit Luyano neighbourhood in Havana early on January 28, 2019.  ADALBERTO ROQUE / AFP

 

A rare and powerful tornado that struck Havana killed three people and left 172 injured, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said early Monday.

Diaz-Canel, who toured the darkened streets of Havana in the pre-dawn hours visiting emergency crews, wrote on Twitter that damage to the Cuban capital from the late Sunday tornado was “severe.”

The tornado overturned vehicles, uprooted trees, knocked down lampposts, and left part of the city in the dark.

In the city’s Luyano neighborhood storm debris — including parts of a balcony ripped off an old building —  blocked the streets, AFP photographers reported.

As emergency sirens blared across the city, firefighters and ambulances rushed about on rescue missions, their flashing lights giving light to blacked out areas.

“Aas of now we mourn the loss of three human lives and 172 injured people are receiving aid”, Diaz-Canel tweeted.

He added that several emergency teams were working hard to restore power to blacked-out areas.

At the Hijas de Galicia maternity hospital staff were forced to evacuate the building due to storm damage.

The tornado, spawned by a powerful storm that originated in the Gulf of Mexico, hit western Cuba with winds of up to 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour.

People described the tornado as having “the sound of a jet engine,” and reported feeling changes in the environmental pressure when it arrived, Armando Caymares with the Institute of Meteorology said.

The tornado “caught me in the street, in the car with my wife and children,” actor Luis “Panfilo” Silva wrote on his social media account.

“I had to dodge fallen trees, flooded areas and strong winds until I managed to get home. We experienced great fear,” he wrote.

AFP

Canadian Diplomat Diagnosed With Mysterious Cuba Brain Injury

Six Persons Killed In Canada Mosque Shooting

 

Another Canadian diplomat in Havana has been diagnosed with a mysterious brain trauma that in 2016 starting afflicting Canadian and US officials in the Cuban capital, a senior official said Thursday.

The latest case, identified in the “early summer of 2018,” brings the total number of afflicted Canadian diplomats and their family to 13.

Meanwhile, a review of Canada’s diplomatic presence in Cuba has been launched, a senior Canadian government official speaking on condition of anonymity told reporters.

“Medical testing has now confirmed that an additional employee has been affected by the unusual health symptoms,” the official said.

“These are similar to those previously experienced by diplomatic staff in Cuba as identified earlier this year.”

The official said in regards to the review that “all options to secure the health and safety of our diplomats in Havana are open,” but offered few details.

The Canadians continue to receive care while a federal police investigation in collaboration with US and Cuban authorities remains open.

Canadian and US authorities had initially suspected an attack using some sort of acoustic weapon, which led to heightened diplomatic tensions between Washington and the Caribbean island nation. But Ottawa later concluded that to be “unlikely.”

American doctors and officials have pointed to “a new type of a possible acquired brain injury” outlined in a February issue of Journal of the American Medical Association by health experts at the University of Pennsylvania, who treated 21 US diplomats.

Canada has accepted that theory.

Those who were afflicted included global affairs, immigration and national defence staff at the embassy as well as their spouses and children, officials said.

In April, the families of Canadian diplomats posted in Havana were ordered home as a precaution. But Canadian tourists are not believed to be at risk.

The symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, headaches, hearing and vision complications, a loss of balance, nausea, and an inability to concentrate.

AFP

Putin To Meet New Cuban Leader On First Moscow Visit

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel (L) attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall in Moscow on November 2, 2018. Mladen ANTONOV / AFP POOL / AFP

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin was set to meet Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Friday on his first official visit to long-term ally Moscow.

Diaz-Canel took office in April in a historic transition of power on the Caribbean island, succeeding Raul Castro, who took over from his elder brother Fidel, father of the 1959 revolution.

Cold War ally Moscow has affirmed, “unshakeable solidarity” with Communist Cuba and last year criticised US President Donald Trump for reversing Barack Obama’s deal to restore ties with Havana.

The visit comes a day after the US, which has slapped several rounds of sanctions on Russia, imposed new economic restrictions on Cuba.

Diaz-Canel flew into Moscow on Thursday evening for a three-day visit accompanied by foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez and other officials.

“We would like to confirm the unchanged policy of Cuba… towards Russia,” Diaz-Canel told parliament speaker Vyacheslav Volodin on Friday morning, in translated comments reported by TASS state news agency.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also stressed the warmth of “friendship and cooperation with Cuba” the day before, telling journalists: “Russia intends to continue these relations and do everything possible to develop them.”

The Cuban and Russian leaders will seek to boost bilateral trade and economic links, Peskov said.

Military cooperation will also be on the agenda, he said, adding that the topic was “quite sensitive” and he could not give details.

He declined to comment on a report in Russia’s Kommersant daily that Russia would lend Cuba more than $50 million to buy Russian arms.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov during a visit to Cuba this week said contracts including deals to modernise Cuba’s railways would be signed during Diaz-Canel’s visit, Russian news agencies reported.

Diaz-Canel will later meet Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, who held a landmark meeting with Pope Francis in Cuba in 2016.

Previous Cuban president Raul Castro visited Russia in 2015 while Putin visited the island on a tour of Latin America in 2014, meeting both Raul and Fidel Castro.

AFP

Cuba’s Castro Slams US Over Sanctions

Former Cuban President, Raul Castro

 

Former Cuban president Raul Castro on Thursday accused the United States of tightening “the noose” around his country, Venezuela and Nicaragua but vowed to “respond to every challenge.”

“For us, the same as for Venezuela and Nicaragua, it’s very clear that the noose is tightening, and our people need to be ready to respond to every challenge with unity, resolve, optimism and unwavering faith in the victory,” Castro said.

Those three countries — all currently subject to US sanctions — are among the last bastions of far left governance in Latin America amid a general trend to the right in recent years.

Since Donald Trump’s election as US president, relations with Cuba have deteriorated after a historic rapprochement under his predecessor Barack Obama.

Castro, the brother of late revolutionary hero Fidel, said the return of right-wing governments in the region and Washington’s hostility towards the left had “reawakened euphoria among our enemies who dream of destroying the Cuban example.”

Dressed in military uniform, Castro was speaking at an event marking the 65th anniversary of a guerrilla attack on a military barracks seen as the start of the Cuban revolution against US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Raul Castro, who is 87, assumed the Cuban presidency after Fidel stepped down for health reasons in 2008. He in turn handed over the presidency to Miguel Diaz-Canel in April.

Bilateral US-Cuban relations had improved since Raul came to power, with full diplomatic relations restored in 2015 — they had been dissolved in 1961 after Cuba fostered close ties with the communist Soviet Union.

Cuba has been run as a single-party socialist or communist state since Batista was ousted in January 1959.

Castro said the US-led blockade of Cuba had “intensified… in particular the persecution of our financial transactions.”

He also blasted statements about Cuba by US officials as “disrespectful, aggressive, interventionist and crudely manipulating historical facts.”

AFP

U.S. Official’s Brain Injury In China Matches Cuba Problem – Pompeo

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies during a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee May 23, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP

 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the brain injury sustained by an American official in China was “very similar” to those that affected US and Canadian diplomats in Cuba.

The US embassy in China issued a health alert Wednesday after a US government employee who had experienced an “abnormal” sound was diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI).

“The medical indications are very similar and entirely consistent with the medical indications that have taken place to Americans working in Cuba,” Pompeo told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Pompeo said the US was moving medical teams to the area to work on the case.

“We are working to figure out what took place both in Havana and now in China as well,” Pompeo said.

He said the Chinese government has committed to helping in the case, under its responsibility to protect foreign diplomats.

In Cuba last year, 24 diplomats and their family members were left with mysterious injuries resembling brain trauma, which were suspected of being caused by a “sonic attack.”

Ten Canadian diplomats and their relatives also suffered a strange illness.

The US government has held Cuba responsible, arguing that Raul Castro’s authoritarian state must have either carried out the assaults or at least known who was behind them.

AFP

Cuba Observes National Mourning After Air Crash Kills 110 Passengers

Many Feared Killed As Cuba Airliner Crashes On Takeoff
Emergency personnel work at the site of the accident after a Cubana de Aviacion aircraft crashed after taking off from Havana’s Jose Marti airport on May 18, 2018. PHOTO: Yamil LAGE / AFP

 

Cuba observed a weekend of national mourning for victims of its worst crash in nearly three decades that killed 110 passengers and crew.

An investigation has been launched into Friday’s crash of the nearly 40-year-old Boeing 737-200 leased to the national carrier Cubana de Aviacion by a Mexican company.

Three women pulled alive from the mangled wreckage and in hospital in critical condition were the only survivors. One of them was conscious and asked for something to drink, the hospital treating them said.

The Boeing crashed shortly after taking off from Havana, coming down in a field near the airport and sending a thick column of acrid smoke into the air.

The circumstances echoed those of Cubana de Aviacion’s worst air disaster nearly 30 years ago, in September 1989, when an Ilyushin 62 plane crashed on takeoff from Havana as it was headed to Italy. That disaster killed all 126 people on the plane, mainly Italian tourists, as well as around 45 people on the ground.

In Friday’s crash, the plane was on a domestic flight from Havana to the eastern city of Holguin. Most of the 104 passengers were Cuban, with five foreigners, including two Argentines, among them.

The plane was almost completely destroyed in the crash and subsequent fire. What appeared to be one of the aircraft’s wings was wedged among scorched tree trunks, but almost nothing remained of the main fuselage.

Cuba’s Transport Minister Adel Yzquierdo told reporters one of the plane’s two black boxes had been recovered in “good condition,” and the other was likely to be found within hours. Their data will be key to determining what happened.

Among the dead were 99 Cubans, six Mexican crewmembers, and five foreign tourists: two from Western Sahara, a Mexican tourist and an Argentine couple. A previous toll counted three survivors out of 110 passengers.

Condolences

Built in 1979, the plane was leased from a small Mexican company, Global Air, also known as Aerolineas Damojh.

Mexico said it was sending two civil aviation specialists to help in the investigation.

Boeing said a “technical team stands ready to assist” and it offered condolences to friends and relatives of the victims.

The mourning period was set to last until midnight on Sunday (0400 GMT Monday), the Communist Party leader and former president Raul Castro said. Flags were flown at half-mast throughout the country.

Diaz-Canel, who succeeded Castro as the communist island’s leader only last month, appeared aghast as he surveyed the recovery efforts, wearing a short-sleeved shirt and surrounded by officials.

He visited the capital’s morgue where the bodies were taken for identification, and met relatives who were being put up in a city hotel. He also visited the three survivors in hospital.

Castro sent his condolences to families bereaved in the “catastrophic accident,” a statement read, as Russian President Vladimir Putin and a string of Latin American leaders also expressed sympathy.

Pope Francis asked the church in Cuba to convey condolences to families “who mourn the unexpected disappearance of loved ones.”

Anguish in Mexico

The plane took off from Havana at 12:08 pm (1608 GMT) Friday heading for Holguin, 670 kilometers (415 miles) to the east.

At the capital’s morgue, Ignacio Ramirez, 46, told of how he lost his 22-year-old cousin, Carlos Santos, in the crash.

“He had come to Havana to get a girlfriend who had arrived from Mexico, and was returning to Holguin,” he said.

Santos’s mother, who lives in the US, was traveling to Cuba to give a DNA sample to confirm her son’s identity.

In Mexico City, anguished relatives and colleagues of the crew gathered outside the company’s offices demanding information — some of them hugging and crying.

“I was friends with the captain, with the co-pilot, with the head flight attendant,” said a former Global Air employee, 44-year-old Ana Marlene Covarrubias.

“When I heard the news on the phone, I thought it was one of those jokes people play,” she told AFP.

Global Air had the necessary permits to lease it, and had passed inspections in November last year, according to the company. The crashed aircraft was one of its fleet of three Boeing 737s.

A Mexican pilot who used to work for Global Air between 2005 and 2013, Marco Aurelio Hernandez, told the Mexican newspaper Milenio that he had previously flown the doomed plane.

Hernandez said he had lodged a complaint at the time about what he regarded as sub-standard maintenance on Global Air’s aircraft.

A Global Air spokeswoman confirmed to AFP that Hernandez had worked at the company but declined to comment on his allegations.

Prior to Friday’s crash, Cuba’s most recent air accident was in April 2017, in which eight military personnel died when a Russian-made AN-26 transport aircraft went down in western Cuba.

AFP

Many Feared Killed As Cuba Airliner Crashes On Takeoff

Many Feared Killed As Cuba Airliner Crashes On Takeoff
Emergency personnel work at the site of the accident after a Cubana de Aviacion aircraft crashed after taking off from Havana’s Jose Marti airport on May 18, 2018. Yamil LAGE / AFP

 

A Cuban state airways plane with 104 passengers on board crashed shortly after taking off from Havana Friday, leaving a wreck of smouldering fuselage, as the country’s president warned many people were feared dead.

The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed into a field close to a wooded area near Havana’s Jose Marti airport, sending a thick column of acrid smoke into the air, an AFP journalist at the scene said.

The plane was almost completely destroyed in the crash and subsequent fire. Firefighters, some still hosing down the burnt fuselage, and rescue workers combed through the wreckage, but there seemed little chance of finding survivors.

What appeared to be one of the wings of the plane was wedged among scorched tree trunks, but the main fuselage appeared to have been entirely destroyed.

Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who went to visit the scene, said there was a “high number” of casualties.

“There has been an unfortunate aviation accident. The news is not very promising, it seems that there is a high number of victims,” Diaz-Canel was quoted as saying after his visit.

Diaz-Canel said nine crew members were believed to have been on board, in addition to the passengers.

The 58-year-old president, who succeeded Raul Castro as the island’s leader only last month, appeared aghast as he surveyed the recovery efforts, wearing a short-sleeved green shirt and surrounded by officials.

Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin.

State television said the airliner was operated by a foreign crew, but gave no details.

Reports said European airline Blue Panorama had been leasing a 737-400 plane to Cubana de Aviacion for several months.

The last major airline crash in Cuba was in July 1997, when an Antonov-24 passenger plane fell into the sea off Santiago de Cuba. All 44 aboard were killed, including two Brazilians and two Spaniards.

In March 2002, a small Antonov-2 plane travelling from Cienfuegos to Cayo Coco crashed in the central province of Santa Clara. All 16 people aboard, among them six Canadian tourists, four Britons and two Germans.

AFP

Airliner Crashes On Takeoff From Havana

Airliner Crashes On Takeoff From Havana
(FILES) In this file picture taken on April 28, 2009, shows an empty check-in desk of Cubana de Aviacion airline in Mexico City’s international airport. Ronaldo SCHEMIDT / AFP

 

 

A Cuban state airways plane with 104 passengers on board crashed shortly after taking off Friday from Havana’s Jose Marti airport, leaving a thick column of smoke over the scene.

The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed in a field near the airport, and a column of acrid smoke was rising over the crash site, an AFP journalist at the scene said.

There were no initial reports of casualties on the ground.

Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who went to visit the scene, said there was a “high number” of casualties.

“There has been an unfortunate aviation accident. The news is not very promising, it seems that there is a high number of victims,” Diaz-Canel was quoted as saying shortly after visiting the scene.

Diaz-Canel said nine crew members were believed to have been on board, in addition to the passengers.

Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin.

State television said the airliner was operated by a foreign crew, but gave no details.

Reports said European airline Blue Panorama had been leasing a 737-400 plane to Cubana de Aviacion for several months.

AFP

Cuba Marks End Of Castro’s Era, Diaz-Canel Emerges President

Cuba Marks End Of Castro's Era, Diaz-Canel Emerges President
Outgoing Cuban President Raul Castro (R) raises the arm of Cuba’s new President Miguel Diaz-Canel after he was formally named by the National Assembly, in Havana on April 19, 2018.
Photo: Adalberto ROQUE / AFP

 

Cuba marked the end of an era Thursday as Miguel Diaz-Canel was formally elected as the country’s new president, succeeding Raul Castro and becoming the first non-Castro to lead the island in six decades.

The silver-haired Diaz-Canel — a top Communist Party figure who has served as first vice president since 2013 — is the island’s first leader born after the 1959 revolution.

Diaz-Canel was elected in a landmark vote of the National Assembly a day before his 58th birthday.

The chamber erupted into applause as the results were read out, with many of the delegates smiling, and shaking hands warmly with Castro and Diaz-Canel.

As Diaz-Canel walked to the front of the chamber, he high-fived the front line of delegates, embracing Castro as he took to the stage, images broadcast on state television showed.

Then the 86-year-old Castro raised his successor’s arm in the air in victory, prompting another wave of applause from the delegates — some were in their shirt sleeves, while others wore military fatigues.

Between them, father of the nation Fidel and his younger brother Raul made the Caribbean island a key player in the Cold War and helped keep communism afloat despite the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Raul has been in power since 2006, when he took over after illness sidelined Fidel, who seized power in the revolution.

Diaz-Canel, who has spent years climbing the party ranks, was named the sole candidate for the presidency on Wednesday.

Thursday’s symbolic vote took place on the anniversary of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, when Fidel’s forces defeated 1,400 US-backed rebels seeking to overthrow him.

Havana has long hailed the showdown as American imperialism’s first great defeat in Latin America.

In Raul’s footsteps 

Diaz-Canel, who some say bears a passing resemblance to American actor Richard Gere, is a fan of The Beatles whose penchant for wearing jeans has set him apart in Havana’s corridors of power.

Although he has advocated fewer restrictions on the press and a greater openness to the internet, he also has a ruthless streak, with harsh words for Cuba’s dissidents and the United States.

Crucially, he will remain under the watchful eye of Castro, who will continue to serve as the head of Cuba’s all-powerful Communist Party.

Once sworn in, Diaz-Canel will be tasked with pursuing reforms begun by Castro to open up Cuba’s economy to small private entrepreneurs and reach a rapprochement with its Cold War arch-enemy, the United States.

In 2015, Havana and Washington renewed diplomatic ties, with then president Barack Obama making a historic visit to the island a year later.

But, steps towards a normalization of ties have been severely curtailed since Donald Trump arrived in the White House last year.

Diaz-Canel will also inherit a youthful population hungry for change on the Caribbean island — one of the world’s last outposts of Communism since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Cuba watchers and domestic analysts say he will favor continuity over change in the early days of his presidency, however.

AFP